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Shane Bieber dominates in Guardians' opener as pitcher's stock goes up | Jeff Schudel

Mar. 29—If you were a general manager of a major-league team contemplating trading for Shane Bieber, you would have wanted to see exactly what the free-agent-to-be right-hander showed March 28 in the Guardians' season opener.

Bieber was superb. He had the Oakland A's flailing at a mixture of pitches for six shutout innings, striking out 11 batters along the way to boost the Guardians to an 8-0 triumph and make a winner of Stephen Vogt in his managerial debut.

"Felt great," Bieber told reporters after the game. "A lot of hard work on display. Continue to keep my head down and do what I always do, and we'll see where we end up."

That last clause from Bieber, "we'll see where we end up," could be interpreted in a couple ways. Maybe he meant time will tell whether he can continue pitching the same way he did in the opener and whether the Guardians could surprise the baseball world and win the A.L. Central.

"We'll see where we end up" could also mean Bieber is curious about what team he'll end up playing for this season if it isn't with the Guardians and when a trade will occur. The MLB trade deadline for 2024 is July 30.

Bieber won the American League Cy Young Award in 2020 when he led all of baseball with eight wins, a 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts — the pitching triple crown — in a season shortened to 60 games because of COVID-19.

A shoulder injury limited Bieber to 16 starts in 2021 and an elbow injury last season landed him on the injured list for more than two months. In between, he was 13-8 in 2022.

Bieber made two starts at the end of 2023 after returning from the elbow injury. They were a benefit mentally as he headed to the offseason, where he worked hard to regain some of the velocity that diminished since his dominant 2020 season.

Bieber threw 83 pitches against the A's. Six of them topped out higher than 93 MPH on the radar gun. Only 11 of his pitches hit that mark in 21 starts last season. He told reporters his fastball made his change-up more effective against the A's.

The last time Bieber had 10 or more strikeouts in a game before March 28 was Sept. 1, 2022, when he fanned 11 Orioles over seven innings in a 3-0 loss that dropped his record to 8-8. He won his next four starts, got a no-decision and then won his final start to finish 13-8.

"You couldn't have asked for anything more from Shane," Vogt told reporters. "He punched out seven of the first nine guys. I kind of wished he had used fewer pitches early, but you'll take that result any time."

Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti is in a delicate position. If Bieber can back up what he did against the hapless A's in his next two starts, it would not be surprising to see him dealt before April ends. His trade value might never be higher.

The Guardians are going to need their ace all season if they are going to contend for the division crown.

If Antonetti does decide to trade Bieber, knowing Biebs will be a free agent in November without a new contract, he should trade for players still under club control that can help the Guardians now.

The Guards already are one of the youngest teams in baseball. It is time to give the fans players that can help the team win now.